Cat Herding

In 2000, EDS, a major information technology and business firm took the term “cat herding” and ran with it for this fantastic super bowl commercial, but what does cat herding mean?

The term is used to draw a parallel between cats, who are inherently independent and difficult to control, and IT workers, who are inherently independent and difficult to control. Anyone with a cat of their own probably has a good idea what I’m talking about. In a more broad sense, herding cats refers to getting different people or groups to coordinate on a goal.

Carla Emmons sums it up nicely:

Herding cats implies the futility inherent in a position as an IT manager.

In a modern IT shop it is quite literally impossible for a manager to know everything about their employees’ jobs and I believe that is the main cause of this precieved futility. To try to understand and control everything your employees are doing is just as bound to fail as trying to get your cat to come when you call its name. The good IT managers know it, the best ones embrace it.

So what is an IT manager to do? I think effective cat herding boils down to just these three things…

  1. Hire good people
  2. Get them the resources they need to do their jobs
  3. Protect them from the politics and metawork as much as possible

Remember, cat herding (IT management) isn’t about your own goals or job fulfillment, it’s about allowing your employees to reach their full potential.

funny, comercial, super bowl, it, it management, project management, buzzword, office lingo, language, definition

6 thoughts on “Cat Herding”

  1. Thanks, Jon. I’ve tried describing this advert to a number of people since and could never do it justice. Now I can show them 😉

  2. 4. Ensure that the team is valued by the company and recognized for the work they do (this is always much harder than it sounds – but if you’re running an incredibly effective but invisible team, your budget line will also be invisible next year)

  3. “Remember, cat herding (IT management) isn’t about your own goals or job fulfillment, it’s about allowing your employees to reach their full potential.”

    If that’s the case, then why would anyone do it? I can see how, as an employee, I’d like it. But if I was moved to IT management and my job then became to get my valued employees more recognised/ promoted out of my team – what’s in it for me? Besides the old adage of happy employees are good employees.

  4. Collin, you raise a good question.

    If the manager can focus on team building and empowering their employees the team as a whole will be healthier. The team will then be more productive and reach their goals.

    That is where the manager’s fulfillment should come from. A manager’s goals should be that their employees reach their goals. For those who are successful at this the recognition will come in time.

    Why would anyone do it? Well, probably not for personal gratification, but that’s still why some do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *